Age at interview: 35 years
Country of birth: Tonga
Company: Pro Physio Plus
In this video
|0:00:00||Early Years and Family Background|
|0:04:12||Moving to Australia and Primary School|
|0:09:25||Relationship with Father|
|0:12:51||Moving to Melbourne and Moving Schools|
|0:16:10||Language and Parent’s Expectations|
|0:17:21||Seeking Support at High School|
|0:19:26||Cultural Identity and Finishing High School|
|0:22:40||University and Pathways|
|0:27:21||Reconnecting with Culture and Balancing Work and Study|
|0:33:15||Getting Married and Starting Career|
|0:42:17||Family Relationships and Communication|
|0:48:51||Cultural Practices and Expectations|
|0:56:53||Advice for Pasifika Youth|
- Early Years and Family Background
- Moving to Australia and Primary School
- Relationship with Father
- High School
- Moving to Melbourne and Moving Schools
- Language and Parent’s Expectations
- Seeking Support at High School
- Cultural Identity and Finishing High School
- University and Pathways
- First Job
- Reconnecting with Culture and Balancing Work and Study
- Parent’s Expectations
- Getting Married and Starting Career
- Career Aspirations
- Family Relationships and Communication
- Cultural Communities
- Cultural Practices and Expectations
- Advice for Youth
- Support during primary and high school
- Experiences of post-secondary education and training
- Developing Careers
- Experiences of Work
- Reflections and advice to young Pacific People
Early Years and Family Background
I would like to start by separating my introduction into three parts, so where I’ve come from, I’ll focus the majority of my chat there, where I am currently, and then a little bit on where I’d like to see myself going. So, where I’d like to start in introducing myself is starting with my name. My name’s actually Viliami Seta Leki Fe’ofaaki and my mother actually thought that Leki would be easier for non-Tongans to grasp. You know, she just thought, Oh, Viliami. She didn’t think about William, or Will, or Bill, she thought Leki which is part of my middle name. One of my earliest recollections being born in Tonga, raised there, six months later we flew over to New Zealand, which I’ll explain why. We stayed in New Zealand for five years before we came to Australia, and I actually grew up in Adelaide which is why I have such an Aussie accent. But having grown up in Tonga went to […] for a short period of time and I didn’t speak English, so very much an Island boy.
My parents are both Tongan, so my father’s from the village let’s say, and my mother is a city slicker, she’s a big-city girl. And being Tongan there’s a cultural heritage viewpoint, a context that I’m going to be growing up in that’s going to be a reoccurring theme, but being born in Tonga, going to […], not speaking English, and then moving to New Zealand, that was a pretty easy transition because I don’t remember it being traumatic or challenging, and when I got to school, that’s where I started to get some early signs of challenge let’s say. So, speaking Tongan at home, not speaking English, getting to school. I grew up in New Lynn, Auckland, was there for a couple of years. My two younger brothers were then born. My older sister was raised by my grandparents in Tonga, and being educated in primary school we had then started to learn multiple languages, so we were taught Māori in primary school, and I was confused because I spoke Tongan at home, and there’s English as well, which as I’ve come to understand it borrows from lots of different types of language patterns, like Latin, Greek, and French, so there was just a lot of things that I was learning early, so I was just confused if anything.
There were some bullying incidents too because as a kid you’re sort of coming into a new place, and that was some of my first formative experiences that I remember still, but all things considered, it was actually a great experience growing up in New Zealand, so running around bare feet, having a lot of family locally, on the street lots of family gatherings. There was a lot of support that I felt growing up in New Zealand. Now, just to draw back to my parents, my father’s a doctor. He was sent to Fiji to study medicine, and he completed his studies. He was a bonded physician, so he had to return to Tonga and then worked there for a X number of years before continuing his career.
My mother was in a different field. She was in the political science. She got sent to Taiwan. She studied and was working in Taiwan before she came back to Tonga. She had my older sister, Levanuia, and then from there, my parents decided to then get married, and then we came to New Zealand. Okay, so my mother basically had a lot of scope for her own career but decided to press pause to be the homemaker and my father was the heavy career guy in medicine. So, bridging that story of my parents and having to jump around and make decisions, life decisions, being in New Zealand we thought as a family driven mostly by my parents, that it was time to make a shift from New Zealand to Australia for prospects and opportunities.
Moving to Australia and Primary School
I can remember from early days that education is a big part of opportunity and being from[school name] going and getting educated we were driven to keep these high standards at home, and I just remember feeling the pressure. And this is not in a bad way now, and it was good, it was a net like positive, but when you’re a kid and you’re trying to understand your way in the world and you’re in these new environments, I’ll get to my high school story, but basically by the time I finished primary school I’d been to eight different schools. Because of all the different travel that we had to do for my father, to being providing a future for our family. So there’s the new immigrant hustle sort of thing, you know, you roll your sleeves up, you don’t complain, you do what you need to do, and when you move to a new land you don’t start with much, but again, at the time you don’t have the view or the perspective that you hold now. But that was really the challenge of moving into a new land, Australia, so we moved from Tonga hopscotched to Auckland, then we landed in South Australia in Adelaide.
So, before I get to Adelaide which is like your middle primary school years, I just want to draw out this primary school experience in New Zealand because there is a vast difference between being a Polynesian culture in New Zealand, in Auckland where there’s a whole heap of us, then going to suburban South Australia where there’s not many brownies around, okay, so there weren’t many Polynesians, but there was some really good benefits in there too. But in New Zealand there was a lot of family, there’s a lot of people that look like you, speak like you, and you have similar challenges at home with church and religion, with family expectations, and just the customs, Polynesian customs. I felt that. When we moved to South Australia, obviously the sense of the community’s very different, so it was very Anglo-Saxon, it was very sort of White Australia, there weren’t very many other types of migrants apart from Italians in this part of Northern Adelaide and being in this new place my parents had helped organise a Tongan association in South Australia. So, that was good to have some of that bridging culture and observing the way my parents went about trying to develop a bit of a base of support, that was great, and we also continued going to church in South Australia.
Now, at this time, middle of my primary school experience, and again, more bullying episodes being a new guy, also a brown guy, and having a strange name. I remember there was this ad, the jingle goes something like…Oh, I can’t remember how it goes, but basically they would sing it every time I’d walk by, and I’m still sort of thinking about that now, and I think the challenge in dealing with peer pressure and bullying is really coming home and trying to speak to people about that, but because we’re new Australians, my parents were busy and I had to deal with this myself. And my older sister had just moved in from Tonga to South Australia. She had her own challenges. Her English wasn’t very strong, and I was almost the older sibling, so I had to look after my younger brothers, and it was just one of those things that I had to bottle up and organise myself.
So, my experience of South Australia was challenging because I’d lost a lot of weight, I wasn’t eating my lunch. My parents had found out that there was mouldy sandwiches that were collecting in the bottom of my backpack because I just lost my appetite and they put it together eventually, and then I moved school and continued on with that primary school experience, it was just a challenge for me in South Australia. So, despite that I excelled in sport. I was pretty sporty. I was a pretty fast kid. Pretty likable. I think when you’re moving around a lot you develop coping strategies, so I make friends really easily, I’m really friendly. Because you move so quickly, you need to just try and figure that out, and then I’ve observed now looking back that keeping friends and keeping relationships takes a lot of work too, and I never developed that muscle because we moved constantly. So, in between New Zealand to Adelaide, we had moved to the UK. My father had specialised in helping ladies give birth, gynaecology obstetrics, and so we moved to the UK, Watford, I think it’s an inner east London city and all I remember was cobblestone streets and it’s always raining, it was crap weather all the time, but then we came back, so to South Australia, back and forth to Tonga a couple of times, and then I continued on my education in South Australia.
Relationship with Father
Now, I rarely saw my father, and I have this sort of dad thing because I just felt really at this young age he comes from tin shack in Tonga, he’s a village guy, my mother also had her own challenges but she was a bit more privileged because her father Sione Na’a Fiefia was the education minister in Tonga, and so he held a large public health post, let’s say. So, I think for my parents, I could see that there were some things that they were working in their relationship which was a challenge for me because I almost had to shoulder some of the family burden in moving around a lot, in trying to hold it down for my siblings. And I know that that could be something a lot of you guys may relate with too because you do almost act like a third parent as with the limited life experience and knowledge that you may have.
And I was middle primary school, so I had this dad thing where I wanted to impress my dad. He was the figure for me that I just I wanted his acknowledgement and just something, a smile and for the longest time, I don’t even remember him smiling at me because he was so tired working his long hours at the hospital, coming home, sleeping, you know he’d be angry, he’d be upset, not at us, just the situation because he’s trying his best. At the time it’s different, now it’s different again. So, for me, one of the ways I reflected in trying to appease my parents, especially my father, was getting good grades at school. So, by the time I was in grade three I’d memorised pretty much all the countries in the world I knew, you could probably test me now I’d probably know the capital cities of all the countries. It’s these little things that when you’re a kid, it’s just, well, that’s what it was like for me. So, I tried really hard. My report cards were really good. And when I got to the end of my primary school years, I asked my parents if I could go to one of the prestigious schools in Adelaide if I can sit the test, get a scholarship, whatever it takes to get there, and they were supportive.
I travelled from the northern suburbs of Adelaide to the city every day and that meant it was a commute with four bags, I was playing the trumpet at the time, sport backpack. And even though I enjoyed it at that time, my parents had a lot of trust in me. So, I was only in grade six and I was traveling almost an hour every day on the bus, and it was a good way for me to grow up quickly because I appreciated my parents understanding already at that age what the real world is like, and little did I know my mum actually for the first week shadowed me. She didn’t tell me she was coming with me on the bus because I had to connect a couple of different buses into the city and back. And during winter with less sunshine, you may leave early in the morning, so I’d walk to the bus stop, catch the bus, and then same thing coming back.
So I think a lot of these life skills were being ingrained early days, like just being self-driven. And I don’t know if it was by design by my parents, it was just more so they were allowing me to do what I thought was best for me, but a lot of it for me, they probably didn’t understand was just getting their approval. I think it was my own way of showing them that I appreciate what you’re doing by I’m going to try my best. And I think that realisation happened pretty early for me in South Australia.
Moving to Melbourne and Moving Schools
So, in this stage of the race, it’s around 1996, 1997, my father had finished his bonded position to Australia. So, when you come across the Tasman you have someone that sponsors you, which was my father’s older sister from Melbourne, but because he is a professional that’s highly sought after, he’s a doctor, he took a bonded position with the South Australian health system which parked us in Elizabeth, which is a bit of a rough patch in South Australia. So when he finished his bonded position we were right to go where ever we wanted and that’s how we got to Melbourne because my Auntie’s, my father’s families set up in Melbourne. So, when we came back to Melbourne, we were put up in my Auntie’s holiday home in Rosebud, so that was great. This was at a time where you could go when it’s stinking hot in the summer you could go swimming at Rosebud Beach. Those formative years were really good great summers, but it was almost one of these tough times too because my parents had to start again.
So, even though they had earned the right to come to Australia, they’d done their hard yards in South Australia, got to start at the bottom of the ladder again, and it was kind of like the second wave of hardship because we were pretty much on government support, even though he had a good job he had to…There were just some challenges early days and so you start at your Auntie’s home, don’t have your own home yet, there’s a two-bedder and there’s a family of five or six in there, and then he’s traveling back and forth quite a lot, and again I find myself moving to another school, trying to figure out how I can help and support, and the best way I thought about doing it was just the books and trying your best with that.
Fast forward a couple of years, again, going pretty well with sport, I had decided, we had then built up enough of a capacity to move out and build our own lives, which is generally how we do it when you support family by bringing somebody over, you help them out a little bit, then they launch off and create their own momentum, so that’s how it was for us. And for me, I had some earlier challenges with school and bullying, but then now I sort of found my feet, I had a better identity. Because I was traveling so much in Adelaide, I was a bit more sure of myself. But then there’s always this sort of father-son challenges, more so from my end, just again seeking this approval.
So, we had then moved from the southeast there, so we were at Rosebud, then we moved into Frankston, for those you may not know this is kind of the southern end edge of metropolitan Melbourne, and around the early late ’90s early ’00s it can be a bit of a rough patch, but then we moved to Hoppers Crossing which is the other side of town. And for my father’s career, he did really well for himself because he started in a general practice and built himself up, and then he went through and continues to move into his business in terms of not just practicing medicine, but he’s gone down a business pathway which is great. I’ll speak to that in a moment.
Language and Parent’s Expectations
And all the way through as we were jumping around to different states and different countries, I just remember feeling confused because I was raised to speak in…We stopped speaking Tongan at home, and my Tongan is very weak now. I can understand, I can read it, I can understand when I read it, but I can’t speak back to you, and I’ve lost all my grandparents now and my last remaining grandparent was my grandmother who passed away, my mum’s mum, ‘Iunisi and her English was good, fortunately, but it just was something for me, it just broke my heart because I couldn’t converse back to her because my parents had thought it’s better for us to speak English because that’s the future at the sake of our mother tongue. And there’s a bit of sadness there for me because it is one of my personal goals to get back on to learning and bringing that back into my life personally, but yeah, I’d just like to touch on that.
So, we had just wanted to focus on getting into Australia, like really head down, bum up, work hard, do the best that you can, and we had to jettison the language there, unfortunately.
Seeking Support at High School
I asked my parents and they helped me out with some extra tutoring so that they helped fund. And he was this Vietnamese guy in a garage. Very popular with some of the city school kids, so by word of mouth, so every Friday we would trundle down and do extra classes. At a high school he gets very multi-cultural, lots of Aussie kids, Aussie-raised Vietnamese kids, Indian kids, Sri Lankan kids. And in an environment like that, we’re at sink or swim. I’m proud that I was able to rise to the challenge, but I think it’s because of the challenges before that that allowed me to see that this is an opportunity again to, yeah, to improve. Lots of tears there though, but it’s one of those things in life.
So, this is a time now where my older sister is working and forging out her own career, so she was at university. She was also working part-time to make sure that she’s independent. I’m heading towards the back end of high school, and again, I’ve got this sort of father-son thing happening and I’m gearing towards trying to get into medicine. So, my subjects that I pick in high school are geared towards that pathway, and I didn’t really give much thought to any other subjects. I wasn’t too keen on say business subjects, I wasn’t too red hot on say physics, or anything in the creative arts, it was just health sciences for me, which suit me fine.
Sporting wise, I did my best. Like even though I had some skill playing rugby, I played state, we were getting to nationals and things like that, for some of my friends growing up from the western suburbs in Melbourne, some of the Island guys, they would’ve really focused on the sport because it’s kind of the way out. For me, I always saw education was my way out. So, even though I played state level sport and I was at national level, it was more of a chance to get away for me in terms of have a bit of fun and see something that’s different, but I always knew that I was going to go to university.
Cultural Identity and Finishing High School
A challenge for me was trying to find my identity being this Tongan guy, and there weren’t any Islanders in my high schools. So that was a challenge because the challenge I had was there was some Island guys coming in and there was sort of some street stuff happening, and it just had a negative connotation, negative vibes, and it reflected on me, so I felt like I had to work harder just to try and improve that image and prove that there’s just like anyone else, there’s the good with the bad.
So yeah. So at that time my interests were pretty much I was studying, going to tutoring, playing a bit of sport, and I decided in Year 11 that I’m going to go really hard at it for medicine. Now, by this time I had picked biology, chemistry, specialist maths, maths methods. I did history revolutions. I really enjoy history. I read a lot of books still, and I’m not like a history buff, but I just have genuine interest in history and English. And at the end of my Year 12 my score was 97.4, it was called an ATAR then I think, or ENTER score, it was called an ENTER score, and to get into medicine it was like 99 point something, 99.5, so I missed out and I was bummed out. I think I just wanted to get into like a prestigious course, so med, I think I had dentistry, and then I had physio as number three. But I didn’t tell my parents my score for the longest time, I was ashamed, and I tried really hard, and just wasn’t good enough.
At this time in high school, I didn’t do any drugs, I really wasn’t interested in girls. I didn’t really do the things that most teenagers may think like rebel or anything. I just enjoyed doing the things that I got up into, like just really trying my best at school, playing a bit of sport, and then just chilling out at home watching The Simpsons on the weekends with my brothers, that was really what I was up to. And then, my time for rebellion came in my 20s I found like, and it was never even that bad, I think there was a time where in your own life’s journey you start to understand a little bit more in your mind’s eye where you are in relation to the world, and I think I was just really head down in trying to do my best for my family and my parents because of the upbringing.
So, I would class myself as a second-generation migrant where you have the first generation that comes and they try their best, whatever that may be, and then the second generation take that and they try and move it to their next level. I didn’t probably understand it in that way early on in primary school, but I was starting to realise that in high school, and I think the weight of being like the third parent to my siblings was starting weigh on me as I finished high school, and then it definitely happened when I missed out on my ENTER score.
University and Pathways
So, I did actually decided to, so I studied biomedical science because okay, in my mind I was like, okay, let me just try and get in through the back door of doing one year, gun the first year degree and then head into medicine. And I didn’t quite get there because I think I was getting distracted at university just enjoying myself, but then I got into physiotherapy. It actually worked out well for me because of my perspective on being sporty, still in the health world, but still very personable and chatty, as you can see, I don’t mind having a chat, and that can be a superpower because when people are looking to you for help they just want to speak someone personable and someone they can relate to. And not to bag doctors or anything because sometimes they can be a bit textbook. They kind of look at you as numbers and diagrams sometimes.
But to come back and just finish the high school story. \We lived at the time, we moved from Hoppers Crossing, and we decided to stay in an inner-city apartment, so it’s central, so my father travelled to Werribee for work, my sister went to university and work, and then I went to the city, and my brothers went to Brighton. And I think it was a great time for us because we were positioned centrally, and I appreciate that we were able to see life from a different lens. I like to think sometimes if I was still in Auckland, still in New Lynn, doing the same thing there, I wouldn’t have had all these experiences. Even moving from suburban say Hoppers Crossing to a high-rise apartment in Southbank, that’s a different environment all together, so that was a really good experience for me.
And I think with my father just to finish that hole there. So, imagine coming to Australia and you have a family of four kids, and they don’t recognise your degree in Fiji, so you’ve got to sit with new graduate kids even though you have 10 years of experience, and then pretty much start all over again in med school. I think that’s where a lot of his frustration and challenges came in and that materialised at home. So, he had to basically go through re-certification for his medical training, which not a lot of people would, I’d like to think, would actually do that because you may find talking to your Uber driver or your taxi driver, they’re highly skilled people overseas but the challenge of coming to Australia and just making sure you’re at that standard, he did that for us, you know, so that’s why I just am really appreciative of my parents and the choices that they made.
So, now that I’ve finished up in high school and my mother had played this role of being the nurturer supporter type. She actually went back and finished her degree and got a degree in linguistics, and so you can see from my testimony here that education’s been a big part of our family because that’s really where a lot of the opportunities lie, and I can attest to that now.
What I’d like to say with high school, again because let’s just say I’m a goodie-goodie and just wanted to make people around me happy and proud of me, I didn’t go to schoolies or anything like that. I went and got a job, and it just came back to this idea of wanting to please people and help my parents.
So, my first job was just the arcade […] because we were living in the city at the time, so I was working odd hours because it was so convenient, I could just walk across there, it’s a 24-hour venue. I actually studied at night-time while I was working at the arcade centre, like cleaning, picking up rubbish, cleaning toilets, manning the arcade machines, and things like that. And there was some good mentoring roles in there because there was some older Tongan dudes that were there as security staff […], plus some of the technicians, game technicians, and they were really proud of my story and they got to know me, and they just affirmed that you’re on the right track, just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re representing. And even though I did, I kind of felt like I was on the right track, but to have someone external from the family come and say that to you it was just for a young and impressionable bloke that was really helpful for me, so just a big shout out to John and Saia, I really appreciate you blokes.
Reconnecting with Culture and Balancing Work and Study
So, I think over my last journey there I was positioned at a place where I made some life decisions where I was able to be in a good spot, but then, there was also good people around me, and I think they just helped catapult me into these different stages of my life. I think when I was in this high school phase, I really wanted to hang out with Islanders, and because we weren’t in that environment after we left New Zealand, we were in kind of suburban South Australian, outer parts of Melbourne, and the Polynesian population was steadily growing, it’s not what it is now, but it was different. So, I was in this kind of grey area where it wasn’t happening. But when we moved to Werribee, I really wanted to get to the local Werribee church and just hang out and try and reconnect those roots. And so I remember if there was a social dance on, or if there was where the churches come together and they celebrate and kai pola, just be festive. I try and like do the suck ups and just try any excuse to try and get to the celebration. And sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t, but it was just one of those things. I felt that there was something missing.
And so that’s the reason why in my 20s I really worked hard to reconnect those cultural roots, so that way I had the balance of, okay, I’m at university, I’m studying, I’m working part-time, just to have my own pocket money, we were in a Polynesian dance group, I was playing rugby a lot, and I think that’s in my 20s was a time that I was able to experiment a little bit more and kind of do the things that Leki wants to do rather than what Leki should be doing. So, if that’s my story of my teenage years, there’s the usual teenage angst and confusion that you get, but I really suppressed those things because I felt like there was other things that I should really focus on, but then those things bubbled up and then they came in my 20s.
So, if I was to give you a snapshot on where I was in my university years, so in 2003, I started my Bachelor of Physiotherapy degree. It’s a 30-hour contact week. So, 30 hours out of uni basically, and then on top of that, I’m working about 10 to 15 hours part-time at[company name], usually from 11:00 to 7:00 because I didn’t mind that, because I was just a footy kick down the road to get home. And then on top of that, I’m playing colts under-20s rugby so that’s a Saturday gone. And then I also danced, my best friend Vernon Vea, grew up in Footscray, and he was part of a group called “FuSIAN” which a lot of the guys that originated “FuSIAN” have gone on and started Raw & Rugged which is a really popular initiative, but we were the early iteration of that. We were a crew of about 60 Polynesian kids across the whole spectrum of Polynesians, Niueans, Fijians, Tongans, Samoans, and FuSIAN stands for family-united Polynesians. And that was just my sort of being in the rugby club with Islanders, being in a Polynesian dance group which incorporates hip-hop movements with Polynesian movements, that was like enough for me. That was like my taste. That was what my weeks looked like. I didn’t really have any extra time to muck around with anything. That’s where I chose to put my time and energies into.
And with work, being at university, and then having the opportunity, because over this time, say five years, my father who’s away working, he sort of was wearing the doctor hat but then he started to put on the business hat as well, so he established a business, he’s educating and learning on the go, and he builds up a successful practice, and he now is working and understanding some of the financial side of things and imparting a lot of that information to me as well, and making challenges to me on how to look at money and managing your family, and again, hitting this idea of education. So, I remember one time, my very first pay-check that I took home was 300 bucks. For an 18-year-old, that’s a lot of money, you know, well, for me it was at the time, 300 bucks. And then I was sort of proud and gushing at my dad saying, “Hey, look at this.” And then he looks at me and he pauses and then he says, “I make that in one hour.” And then he didn’t really say much after that, but the message was like that’s great, but really you should still focus on the books and finish your degree, and then really get the career that can help you with other things.
So, like most stoics, strong silent types, they don’t need to say much. Kind of like farmers, you know, farmers don’t say much, but when they speak, you know what they mean. So that was just one of those memories that popped into my head at that time. Like at the time I was thinking, “Man, this is some pretty good money, I’m enjoying myself, I’m working some fun hours.” But that kind of set me back on course again. From that time, my father who’s got the business hat on as well and working very hard, my mother supporting, my siblings doing their own things, my younger brothers now finishing up the back end of their high school, my parents had the means to support us by putting us into an apartment. So my brother and I were in our own apartment, we were learning to pay bills and take on some of that real-world responsibility as we were traveling to sport, and school, and things like that.
Getting Married and Starting Career
I think in my life stage in my early to mid-20s I had now had met Belinda, and we were dating, and Belinda, is now my wife. Her father’s Australian, her mother’s Tongan, and she’s from the northern suburbs of Melbourne, and I actually asked her parents if it’s okay that she moves in with me so that I can look after her and so that I can just be sure if Belinda’s the one. After I asked her parents they said yes. And I think that was a big life stage for me because looking after somebody else on top of yourself takes a lot of responsibility and thought, and things like that, and I’d gone to my parents and asked for their approval, their insight, feedback. I was 23 at the time, and then just before I was about to turn 24 I dropped on my knee and proposed to Belinda. I think to me now it seems really early, but I think looking back it’s because of all these experiences have built up to make a decision that was best for me at the time and best for us.
So we had then decided to continue living in the city and then we pushed on with Belinda, was working in her career, so she works in like a labouring type job at a mail house, so she was sorting parcels and things, and then I had finished off my university degree in four years, so it’s a four-year undergraduate degree. I did pretty well. I got through it, and then I applied for jobs and within my first job I presented, and I got the first job. I had about six lined up. It was Symmetry Physio in Hoppers Crossing. They’re a pretty big mob, and I don’t know what they saw, but I interviewed well and did really well. And I think looking back now I had a really good bunch of mentors around me, and the head guy there at Symmetry Physio, Mark Round, left quite a bit of an impression on me.
So, I had started my career straight in private practice, which means you don’t go to the hospital and work as a physio, you’re in basically a centre or a medical centre let’s say. And for those of you who don’t know what a physio is it’s just someone that helps you move better, basically, okay, so if you get into a car accident and your body gets smashed up pretty bad and you’re in the hospital after surgeries, physios are usually the guys that come in and help you out of bed and get you moving. Or, if you’re watching TV and you’re watching the rugby and Sonny Bill gets injured and he falls over, the physio is the guy that runs out and helps Sonny Bill. And so we’re a medical staff basically. And as you heard from my story before I was trying to be a doctor, but this is kind of a pseudo-doctor role.
And so in this health profession that I’m finding myself in, it’s kind of like you land your dream job because you’ve got this guy that’s open-minded, the business owner, and the way that he runs the team, the way that the business runs is a good way for me to learn. And so when I was with them, with Mark Round, with Symmetry for eight years, I actually partnered with him and opened two clinics with him as a partner. And over the eight years, he supported me in going as a sports physio with Victorian state rugby teams as a team physio with his support. And my family contacts, I managed to travel with a Tongan national team, as a sports physio too, to the Commonwealth Games in India. I travelled with the Tongan rugby team to lots of international places overseas, and that was a great experience.
So if you’re following me in this life journey, I’ve got Belinda, and I, I’m a professional working in the health field, she’s doing her work that gets her happy, and then we buy our first home in Caroline Springs, and I think from there we’re on the same sort of wavelength towards mapping the rest of our lives together. So, to where we are currently, I have a family of three kids, God-willing we’re trying to get another two out. We’d like to have five kids, so we’ve got three, a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old.
And just to finish off this story of where I am at the backstage, so currently, yes, I’m a physiotherapist. I’ve been working in this field for 12 years, really passionate about lifelong health, and I am now wearing the business hat. So, we currently have seven locations, and it’s not even work. It’s weird. It’s like something that you just wake up and do, and you think about it all the time in a good way. And so, the thing that I’m looking at now is I’m moving towards – I introduced this idea of a health spectrum, where you’re starting at sickness at one end of the spectrum and then wellness is the other extreme. Now, we all sit somewhere on this health spectrum.
Now, where I find myself coming back to now is this idea of everyone trying to improve their health, and a lot of people in our Pacific cultures are struggling with chronic health disease problems, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure problems, obesity, and my father being a doctor, my younger brother being an accountant, my youngest brother being a doctor, he’s an emergency doctor at the Alfred, we have this insight into this world of health, and the perceptions of the public on how Pacific Islanders may be. They’re really friendly people, like big, loud, boisterous, fat blokes, and that’s great, but at the same time it saddens me a little bit because there’s so much more there is to us, and so one way that I’m looking to change that is setting up this health company to eventually move our people from sickness to wellness.
And the idea behind this is yes, right now we’re across seven locations within medical centres because people that go to medical centres are sick, they’re sickness centres. And that’s not a bad thing, when you’re sick you go to see the doctor, but then when you’re looking to get over that original sickness and improve your health, your diet, your exercise, that’s a bit of a grey area because if you’re prediabetic, you may not have as many opportunities to help you in the health field as if you have full-blown type 2 diabetes, or you need to go dialysis or something. The medical field can be mobilised.
But anyway, being the captain of the ship here, having a team of six, and we have seven locations around Melbourne, and we have a stand-alone performance centre, a gym, in partnership with our friends at Iron Armour Academy. It’s just uncanny because 18 months ago, I was one physio in one shop, in 18 months we’ve grown to a team, and now I’m learning new life skills because yes, I’m a physio, I’m passionate about it, I really enjoy it, I like to think I’m pretty good at it, but then now I’m learning to be a people person, managing people, being a manager of people, being a manager of expectations, providing employment, providing opportunities for other people, and then growing this business, this footprint into more, yeah sure, more locations, but more so to spread this idea of moving people across this health spectrum because there’s more to health than just going and punching out a heavy exercise program. It’s about managing your stress, how good your sleep is, what’s on your plate, the decisions we make, and the relationships you keep with people around you.
And this is my own self-development journey because as a 20-something-year-old, entering into the health field as a young physio, I’m not thinking about this, but as a 35-year-old, with a young family, heading toward midlife crisis, you know, 40s, 50s, 60s, and looking at my ancestors, and reading the book about William Mariner and him in his book describing how beautiful and utopian the islands are, and then that book going back to Europe saying in this faraway land there’s people walking around with not much on and they have plentiful food, it’s always sunny, and they have glistening black hair, nice strong, sleek bodies, and then look at us now. What are the challenges? What’s happened? And so, I think about that a lot, and if I was to project where I’d like to go, this health spectrum and delivering this business, this health company that can help you in your health journey I think, that’s what gets me up out of bed. And a lot of that wouldn’t have happened with these formative experiences and the decision-making along the way.
Family Relationships and Communication
Oh, wow. Well, that was amazing. I could listen to you for hours.You’ve mentioned a couple of times in terms of your relationship with your dad is … And I recognize too that that dynamic is a dynamic that is a lot of our youth kids certainly would’ve experienced at some point, but I feel like communication is a really important part of how we interact as humans, but while we’re not that great at it, as Pasifika people in terms of the dialogue between parents and children. My dad, so for example, like my dad is a man of very limited words, and he expressed his love through his actions and was very much like the typical Tongan dad, worked really hard, certainly really grumpy growing up, and I feel like that manifested in different ways and has impacted my life and that of my siblings in different ways, but we weren’t that great at talking about it. So, what was that like for you in terms of your growing up with your relationship with your parents, and what was communication like as a family?
Yeah. The way I think about it is comparing to what I saw. So, I saw my friends growing up in South Australia, for example. They had their dads pick them up sometimes, they came to parent-teacher interviews. Mine was never there. And my mum was always there playing the supportive role, and she had her engagements with church too, so she was a bit time poor, so I felt like there was a list and it was prioritised. It was like work, education, church, and then everything else is below that. It’s not that you’re unimportant, it’s just we’ll get to it if there’s time left over. So, talking about feelings, talking about bullying, talking about this is what happened to me, just having a bit of a chat, that didn’t really happen, and so I think when we found ourselves in a position where we did have the time because my father’s position at work and building himself up had changed, so he had a bit more scope and bandwidth, and my mum’s time had also changed, so we then had family meetings, like once a fortnight, we would just sort of sit down and just talk, and that was great.
But I think a lot of it was understanding that list of priorities, and that they just had to hit those things first because I think let’s say if it was prioritised in the wrong way, or a way that didn’t materialise what’s happened now, I think who knows what could’ve happened because sometimes if say let’s just say church, for example, is prioritised at the sake of other things, some portions of your life may be strong, but then others are a lot weaker because there’s a lot of priority given to say church, for example.
Other examples may be sport. If sport goes number one sport, let’s go, let’s go. And then you perform an injury and your sporting career’s over and there’s like nothing left over to talk about. Whereas I think now because we talked about working hard, getting educated, it was almost like a strong foundation for us, which isn’t all roses because you do wish that you could have some time where your dad was there to watch you play sport on the weekend, but now that I’m on this side of the fence and I’m a father now, it’s just one of those things, I think it’s a life lesson thing.
Well, where my mind goes back to, right is if my dad had stayed in the tin shack in Tonga and I was raised in Tonga and I listened to stories of my grandparents and the sacrifices and the extended relos had made to ensure that one my grandparent was able to get a good education so you can rise to a prominent position within government, these little stories in your developing mind when you’re a kid, it really solidifies ideas. Because your mind is so malleable when you’re young, you just don’t know what to think, but if you keep hearing the same stories, and then you see it, you’re like okay, well this is how the world works. So, even though that I didn’t speak to my dad, or he wasn’t there all the time, I understood why.
But if I think in another context, like for another young person, if there’s a mismatch from what’s being said and what’s being done, I think that’s where the confusion can come in, whereas, for me, it was consistent all the way through, which is why again, I don’t see myself as a goodie-goodie, I just see myself as doing the work. I did the work, I followed the processes, and then I’ve got some results to show for it. But it’s because I’ve kind of ticked these boxes as things went along. So, yeah, I keep coming back to this idea of a tin shack in Tonga, that’s where I could be, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s opportunities here.
And as our family tree grows and there’s more branches of the family tree, I’d like to instil some of those same things into my kids so that…If we compare apples with apples, if you think of third-generation Australians, like say Italians, old man Mario came in the ’30s, let’s say ’40s, ’50’s let’s say, so after World War, came, he started somewhere at the back arse of Melbourne in Werribee, okay, and he just head down, bum up he worked the land, okay. He had his kids, they grew up in the ’70s, ’80s, and then now the grandkids are coming through and they’re like anglicised like Maltese, Macedonian names, but they’re pretty much Aussie’s now, I’d like to see that for Pacific Islanders too because we can contribute and do the things very much like our neighbours can do.
A lot of the things that I like about other minorities around us too is that they band together, and they do really well. I love the Italian social clubs. They come together, they put some cash in together, and they come in with their associated trades and specialties, and they just work well together, and I think we have the potential to do that too. So, I’d love to see that.
Cultural Practices and Expectations
was I really love your point and I often sort of talk to my siblings about how do we mobilize all of the expertise within our communities to do the same thing, and I feel like there’s a shift happening at the moment certainly with our generation, Leki, but it’s quite slow. So, I think that’s a really good point that you make and I just love listening to you speak about how … I feel like you develop this amazing awareness really, really young, and whilst I recognize that that’s been really helpful in shaping your narrative and how you’ve kind of sort of navigated your life of decisions and having those amazing examples in front of you in terms of those stories from your family and watching your dad and your parents work their careers, hey. But I often find too that with our youth that even with the parents slogging it out that there’s this disconnect, so they know that their parents are working really, really hard but don’t understand the absence, so then they kind of go off that way. So you either go one way or you go the other, and I think the unfortunate majority of our people that it’s turning towards the other way. Anyway, that’s just me going off on a rant.
In terms of your parent’s involvement with their Tongan culture, did you observe them having to…Because what comes up a lot is the obligation, it’s all of the family responsibility of just dealing with the obligations back home, the sending of money, and the second-gen kids that we find don’t understand that responsibility. So, did you experience that as the sign of your parents in watching them?
Yeah, I think the thing here is like frameworks, right. So, culturally, it’s hierarchal in cultures. So, if we think about Tonga, we have a monarchy still, so you have the royal class, let’s call them, then there’s nobility, and the noble class, then you have say the government type, say political class, and then the political class has business owners and people, and then you have every day people. So, in a sort of Western context, that makes sense. In a cultural context there’s family hierarchical situations, okay, so the way that relatives are ranked from your family tree, so if you’re coming from say the mother’s side, through the father’s side, there’s unwritten laws on these obligations, okay, so at a funeral, at a [00:57:36] celebration like a birthday, there’s an expectation on where you know where you are in the family tree, okay, and then if it’s somebody else’s funeral or birthday, it could be switched around. So it’s not like you’re a peasant every single time, but there’s this unsaid law that we all understand.
Now, when I’m raised very Australian but with some understanding of Tongan roots, it can be a bit confusing, okay, because I can come into this hierarchical structure, this cultural structure, and be kind of almost seem brash or rude because I don’t pay attention to those obligations because as I mentioned before the construct that I grew up in was work hard, education, everything else is next. Like, we’re religious, sure, we’re spiritual. We have other views on things, but that almost comes to naught unless you work hard and you have education, because if you use like other cultural people around us, they may be spiritual people too, but they work hard, they get educated to have a platform, to then be able to, okay, put more energies into over visiting, okay, put some more money over here, they have the bandwidth because they’ve earned the right to make those decisions because they worked hard, got educated first.
So, I think because I had as you heard in my story, because I already had these steps and I had some self-awareness built in, that was only permitted let’s say because my parents had that because they had the education from high school, yes, because they had some different life situations, but then they imparted that maybe not directly, but indirectly, but I was able to digest that and put it in my own sort of like a video game upload it into my own brain and then play the game of life. So respectfully, I really, really like what some of our neighbours are doing, and I think we’ve got those frameworks to make it really successful. And it may take another generation for us, like our generation or the next to really see it come to fruition, but all I can report to you guys is what seemed to work for me which was just hard work and getting educated. And now I’m moving into a position to where now I can spend more energies on bits and pieces or put a bit of cash into other things whereas if I tried to play that card a bit earlier, let’s say 10 years ago when I’ve just starting to get started or if my life stage was a bit different, there’s more of a need of this desperation, there’s frustration, you start pointing fingers at relatives, friends, family, the situation that we’re in.
So, I believe if we have that prioritised a little bit better and we’re bit more mindful of where our own situation and self-awareness is at then I think that’s brilliant because if people ask me what my background is, I say I’m proudly Australian, but I have Tongan roots. I’m respectful and proud of those Tongan roots because that gives me my outlook on life, okay, the opportunities came from Australia and the opportunities came from my parents. So I think that in the way that I think about that and the way that I’d like to impart this knowledge to my family is just letting those results speak for themselves because even though my parents are older than me obviously, but they’re still working out and figuring out how they’re moving their way forward and I look to them and I look to other mentors that were around me in those formative years and continue to work on myself with that self-development side of things to show up better for myself, for my wife, Belinda, for our family, and then for the other things that I’m involved in.
So I think usually if you find something that’s working, really try and reverse engineer why it’s working and then plug it into how you think about things and just try your best because one of the things apart from modelling what’s working is just consistency. Like if there’s another attribute that I can look at my parents which will drive us, because our first role models are really who’s at home, is just looking at my dad getting up at 4:00 AM, getting to the hospital, coming home at 7:00, my mum just doing what needs to be done to keep the house together, and then going and seeing people that you may see on the TV or people that you see at church, or whatever it may be, you can see if they’re getting the real results and then trying your best to model that into your own life. Seems to work for me and I’ll continue to try and hack that as well.
Yeah, awesome. I really like your point too about your connection to physio and obviously your inspiration behind understanding health, but also too, the impacts on what that has on our people.
Advice for Youth
But in terms of like the health … Because recognizing too that obviously our people there’s a huge issue with obesity and all of the issues that stem from that, but I like that you link that into physiotherapy and how the two can work together in terms of educating our people about their health, but then how that works in a physio sense in terms of your career.
So, if you were to give three tips to anyone that was interested in doing physio as a career, what would you recommend would be the three tips that they follow to get them to where you are now?
Okay, so if I was to speak to 18-year-old Leki and I would give 18-year-old Leki some advice, I would recommend that you go and actually volunteer two weeks down at your local clinic and just figure out if it’s for you. Do you like it? Because that can save you a lot of stress and a lot of time and money because it is expensive. You could finish up with a degree and have this $60,000 debt hanging over your head and you don’t even use it, and that’s not just with physio, it could be other university degrees. It’s one of my pet peeves, unfortunately, is there’s a few university degrees that don’t land you a job as soon as you finish, so just really think about that, guys, because that’s a lot of cash.
Number two, I would be looking at what your weaknesses are because you can look at your strengths, a lot of people can talk about that, but if you’re not very confident in speaking to somebody, or if you’re not really good face to face, or if you’re not very good at conflict resolution type stuff, that may be a problem because there’s nowhere to hide, you’re one to one, there’s someone in front of you, they’re in pain, and you’re looking to figure out how to help them. So, if you’re looking at your own character weaknesses, personal weaknesses, just be aware of them because that’s really important.
The third thing for me is right now getting into physiotherapy is a bit of a challenge because there is a certain ENTER score that you need, so if you don’t get there straight away, don’t be disheartened because if you did what I asked and you went and checked it out and you really enjoy it, you can see yourself doing it, you’re self-aware and you understand where you are in your own development, number three, you’re obviously needing to try and enter a certain level at high school, if you don’t get there, don’t stress out because you can actually do another course which then instead of going straight in, you can take one step up and take a step sideways and then away you go. Believe me, no one cares what your ENTER score is after that sort of initial couple of weeks, no one ever asks you again, okay, and it’s only a snapshot on your life, it’s a drop in the ocean. There’s so much life left to live. Don’t worry about what your ENTER score is. If you’re ashamed because it was less than 50, who cares, go and do a diploma in something, then work hard, get educated, then you’ll find year one, year two later you’ll get into your physiotherapy degree and then away you go. If anything, it’ll build you up stronger because you had the resilience to be consistent and chip away.
The best physios I know didn’t get in straight away, they were the ones that actually went the long way round, and that goes for doctors too. Like doctors who go straight in, they’re usually really textbook smart, they have good IQ, but their emotional quotient is cactus, they can’t speak to you as a real person, and when you go speak to a doc and they’re really personable, they care about you, you love that doc, you want to follow that doc wherever they go, okay, and I find that too, wherever I go people will come to see me wherever I’m at, whichever location I’m at because I make them feel a certain way. So if you’ve got that emotional quotient, you’ll do really well in life, okay. Book smart’s important, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll be like a superhero if you get the EQ as well, so just have a think about that.
Nice. Oh, I love that. And I think too, that in terms of our Pasifika people, we have the empathy and the soft skills sort of down pat, it’s sort of working on all the other areas to kind of bring it all together. But I like that you mentioned too to kind of hone in on your weaknesses so that you can really help to identify what your weak points are but work on that too.
And then just finally because I feel like we’ve covered lots of ground, Leki, what does success for you look like? What is the ultimate point of success for you? And it can be anything.
Yep. This is a really easy answer for me because I think about this every day. Success to me is raising functional, independent kids, okay, because that’s what I am. My parents don’t need to rely on me and I’m proud of that, and I would love my kids to be the same. I’m not going to lean on them. I’m not going to encroach on my beliefs onto them, I’ll do the best that I can with my own perspective, but I’m going to raise them so they can push on and do what they can because I would’ve done my best. So, if I can do my bit in raising independent kids that are functional in society, that’s a pat on the back for me.
Support during primary and high school
- Peers and friends as a source of support at school
- Support from parents during schooling (Part 1 & Part 2)
- Support from teachers and schools
- Transition from school to post-school education (Part 1 & Part 2)
Experiences of post-secondary education and training
- Experiences of university
- University journeys: Interruptions and finding one’s direction
- Diverse pathways towards university
- Experiences of TAFE
- Short courses and on-the-job training
- Early aspirations and current occupation
- Talking about future aspirations with family members
- Networks of family and friends
- Be proactive and seize unexpected opportunities
- Creating opportunities: Volunteering
Experiences of Work
- Benefits of being a Pacific Islander at work
- Engaging with Pacific community members through work (Part 1 & Part 2)
- Navigating family and career
- Future aspirations
Reflections and advice to young Pacific People
- ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
- Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
- Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
- Ashirah – University student
- Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
- Chris – Field Officer (HR)
- Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
- Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
- David – App company CEO
- Elisabeth – Teacher
- Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
- Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
- Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
- Leki – Physiotherapist
- Luisa – Registered Nurse
- Malelega – Legal Assistant
- Marita – Writer
- Rose – Workplace Consultant
- Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
- Semisi – Lawyer
- Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
- Teisa – Medical Doctor
- Tevita – IT Professional
- Thom – Make-up Artist
- Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer